William E. Moerner
Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 2008
The Prize Committee for Chemistry has unanimously decided that the 2008 Wolf Prize be jointly awarded to
William E. Moerner
Stanford, California, USA
“for the ingenious creation of a new field of science, single molecule spectroscopy and electrochemistry, with impact at the nanoscopic regime, from the molecular and cellular domain to complex material systems”.
The work of these two scientists has led to the creation of a new field of science, single-molecule spectroscopy and imaging. William E. Moerner was the first to perform optical detection and spectroscopy of a single, individual molecule in condensed matter. Allen J. Bard pioneered the development of the scanning electrochemical microscope, allowing high resolution chemical imaging of surfaces and the study of chemical reactions at the nanoscopic regime, applied to biological and catalysis systems. Prior to these discoveries, all chemical experiments essentially measured ensemble averages, over millions to billions of putatively identical copies of the sample molecule, occasionally blurring important information, pertaining to hidden heterogeneity in configuration and intermediate states, in time-domain dynamics. By pushing optical detection to the ultimate limit of one molecule, these scientists changed our understanding of the chemistry and physics of individual molecules. Thus, the strength, persistence, and daring exhibited by Moerner and Bard, in attacking seemingly insoluble problems, led to new experimental and conceptual approaches, currently widely adopted by the scientific community at large.
Professor William E. Moerner’s ingenious contributions to science have centered around two recurrent themes, which on one hand, address the development of a novel and revolutionary spectroscopic tool, single molecule spectroscopy; and on the other, its applications to problems in physics and analytical chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics. Since their pioneering steps in 1987, Moerner and his team have demonstrated a variety of sparking new subfields, including spectral diffusion of individual emitters, lifetime-limited line widths, temperature-induced dephasing, nonlinear saturation of a single molecule, photo-induced Poisson kinetics, blinking and switching of a single emitter, photon anti-bunching and optically-detected magnetic resonance of a single molecular spin. Thus, Moerner’s work trail-blazed a path for the measurement of individual molecules, having broad implication in the investigation of proteins, enzymes, DNA and RNA, and defects in solids or complex materials. Furthermore, this path enables the achievement of super-resolution imaging at the molecular level and endows scientists with the possibility to control the nanoscopic regime and to build molecular-scale devices.